NASA - Hayabusa Asteroid Mission Comes Home

The Hayabusa capsule and bus entered the Earth's atmosphere over Woomera, Australia, on June 13 at 11:21 p.m. local time. From the perspective of NASA's DC-8 airborne observation team, the capsule moved below and slightly ahead of the bus and stayed clear of the spectacular breakup of the bus. After the bus had disintegrated, the capsule continued to create a wake, before reaching peak heating and then fading gradually. That's when the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) expects the sample return capsule of the agency's technology demonstrator spacecraft, Hayabusa, to boomerang back to Earth. The capsule, along with its mother ship, visited a near-Earth asteroid, Itokawa, five years ago and has logged about 2 billion kilometers (1.25 billion miles) since its launch in May 2003. With the return of the Hayabusa capsule, JAXA concluded a remarkable mission of exploration -- one in which NASA scientists and engineers played a contributing role.